In 2011, everybody's template for "cool couple," Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore split up after 27 years of rock and roll marriage. WE WERE BUMMED.
Then, in the past few days, Gordon made headlines by blaming Moore's infidelity for the couple's split in an Elle profile, saying most notably: "We seemed to have a normal relationship inside of a crazy world. And in fact, it ended in a kind of normal way—midlife crisis, starstruck woman."
How cool is that quote, by the way -- it's so neutral yet withering. I just imagine her thinking, "An affair? God, Thurston, how TYPICAL."
Gordon declined to name the woman involved, but it wasn't long before Jezebel published the name and photographs of the woman in question, identifying her with the headline as "the woman who broke up Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore."
And while the idealistic feministy part of me is grossed out by the fact that Jezebel ran this story, the businessy journalist part of me would love to have that story. What I'm saying is I get why they ran it, and I get why they framed it the way they did. But it doesn't change the fact that as far as I'm concerned, the person who broke up Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore is Thurston Moore.
I have been cheated on. I have cheated as well, in the many careening years as an active addict, when it didn't occur to me to curb any of my hedonistic impulses, whether for drugs, booze, or sex with anyone I felt like having sex with.
I say all this because I'm about to talk a lot about "blame" as it relates to cheating, and I can't do that without being honest about my own shortcoming. As a person who has made a lot of mistakes, I cut others a nearly endless amount of slack for theirs. I accept infidelity as a frequent reality, one that happens for all sorts of complicated reasons, and I'm not particularly judgmental about it. But I do believe cheating, when there is an expectation of monogamy, to be an essentially immoral action, one that causes a uniquely devestating level of pain.
Here's how I once found out that my boyfriend was cheating on me. (For the purposes of this article, I'm kindly not specifying which one, but honestly, fuckers should know better than to cheat on a writer.)
I received an email, at work, informing me that my boyfriend had been having an affair with the sender's now-estranged wife. It began this way:
I've been wrestling over contacting you for months. I'm sorry to send you this. It can't be unsent but I would want to know if in your position.
It then went on to explain how he had first uncovered the affair by stumbling across graphic IMs and texts between my then-boyfriend and his wife. His wife had insisted that it was just a flirtation and promised to break it off, but months later he found more messages between them referring to previous meetings and planning to meet again. He knew my boyfriend's full name, place of employment and other identifying details.
Finally, he wrote, "Hopefully the pain I cause by sending this will prevent more pain in the future."
Although shock took over and blanketed my emotions in a comforting numbness that would thankfully last for the next several weeks, my body started to shut down. I began to shake and found it difficult to stand, much less walk to the phone and verify the details of the affair with my boyfriend.
"I just received an email about a woman named XXX," I told him.
"Oh yeah?" he hedged. "What did it say?"
"Do you have an idea what it might have said?"
And with his simple "yes," my world flipped from one in which I was in a happy, loving relationship that I expected to last forever to one in which I had been lied to and cheated on. It was a Tuesday morning.
The most difficult part about infidelity, at least for me, was how it rearranges your experiences so suddenly -- it's hard to understand that what you believed to be happening was not actually what was happening, that there was a whole second layer you did not see. You are suddenly blindsided with a new version of your partner and forced to reconcile this version with the version you believed to be lovingly faithful to you.
It is easier for some people, I suppose, to imagine that it is not the person you love who did this after all. It is that other person, that person to whom you have no loyalty, who is to blame.
But while I still feel traces of residual hurt and anger when I remember our failed union, they are all aimed at the person with whom I was in a relationship, not the woman who participated in his betrayal.
It took me awhile to think much about her, although I knew her name and cringingly searched her online despite being terrified of finding out what she looked like. I felt compelled to seek out information I didn't want, a pattern that would continue in the coming weeks, when I would drill my partner for details of how they met, what they'd done together, where they'd done it, and on and on, whenever I thought of another detail I needed to fill in the mental pictures I was torturing myself with.
But these questions were all about him and the specific ways he had betrayed me. After that initial fruitless Internet search (Facebook didn't exist yet), I hadn't thought much about HER at all.
When it became evident that our relationship wasn't going to survive the infidelity, I began to tell friends what had happened and I was surprised to find that so many of them immediately had questions about the woman involved.
"How old is she?"
"What does she do?"
"What's she like?" they asked and they were surprised to hear I didn't know and didn't care.
I didn't feel anything when I thought about her, except for the sad, uncensored thought that I hoped she wasn't thinner than me. The fact is, his ass made a commitment to me. She didn't, and she didn''t owe me anything.
And I can tell you right now that if I found out tomorrow that I was being cheated on, I'd feel the same way.
"Other women" don't break up relationships. Despite the archetype of the temptress hellbent on seducing someone else's man, most women who sleep with married men are women who are propositioned by married men. I know the type -- they approach me at parties or message me on Twitter with their practiced lines, and I'm quite certain my polite refusals only send them on their way to the next woman and the next until somebody finally accepts.
Men who want to cheat will cheat. And men who don't necessarily set out to cheat but do so anyway are still adults who are fully capable of making decisions, even as they relate to where to place their penises. To place the blame on the other woman is to vastly underestimate men and to worse, to rob them of the accountability for their actions.
Sure, if no woman ever consented to participate in infidelity, no man would ever be able to cheat, but would we really be that impressed by men who stay faithful sheerly for lack of opportunity?
The feelings that spew forth in such an emotionally volatile situation are what they are -- I can't blame a recently betrayed woman who finds herself wanting to gouge the other woman's eyes out, although that was not my experience. But societally, we have a woman-blaming problem of which Jezebel's post is just the most recent example.
Because let's not forget that when a woman cheats on her partner, she still takes the blame. Remember Kristen Stewart's self-flagellating "I love him I love him I'm so sorry" apology when she was caught cheating on Robert Pattinson? Rupert Sanders, the man she cheated with, barely entered the conversation -- certainly nobody referred to him as "the man who broke up Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson." No, that blame was placed squarely on Stewart's shoulders.
So if a man cheats with a woman, the woman's to blame. And if a woman cheats with a man, the woman is still to blame.
And honestly, I don't know Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. (Although Jane does, cause she's cool.) Ultimately, none of us on the outside really know what happened in their relationship, what arrangements they may have had or not had, or what myriad of causes may have contributed to their breakup. But one thing I do know is that "blame" for any break-up, if it must be placed, belongs to the people in the relationship, and the choices they make. Even the choice to cheat.